Madison Keys defeats Barbora Krejcikova at Australian Open


MELBOURNE, Australia — Before Madison Keys plays a game, her new coach Georgi Rumenov likes to remind her that “it’s not necessary, it’s not necessary.”

The message is that it’s not about implications or expectations. This is the rally, the blow at your fingertips.

That’s easier said than done for Keys, an American tennis star who, despite all the thunder from his serve and groundstrokes, has long struggled to find peace in the matches that matter most.

Last year she found herself obsessing over results and comparing herself to her peers, tossing and turning at night and trying to calm her anxiety.

“I didn’t sleep as well,” she said. “I felt like there was literally a weight on my chest just because I became so focused and obsessed with it that I really didn’t appreciate anything, because that’s all I was thinking about. “

But even though tennis has one of the shortest off-seasons of all professional sports, it took Keys enough time to change his thinking and his form with the help of Rumenov.

After winning just 11 singles matches in 2021, Keys won 11 in less than a month in 2022: winning the title in Adelaide and returning to the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday with a dominating victory, 6 -3, 6-2, over Barbora Krejcikova, the No. 4 seed and defending French Open champion.

She will meet top seed Ashleigh Barty in the semi-finals. Barty defeated American Jessica Pegula, 6-2, 6-0.

“It means a lot,” said Keys, 26, who is unranked this year after being ranked No. 7 earlier in her career. “Last year was really tough, and I did everything I could with my team to really reset this offseason and focus on starting fresh and really starting from scratch and not worrying about the last year. And wow, it’s been going well so far.

Keys has long played a high-risk game and she has, to her detriment under duress, often taken too much of a risk when commanding a point. There have been signs of progress in that department this year, as she hit with more topspin and clean clearance, and opted to place the ball rather than kick it.

“I worked on it,” Keys said when asked about her approach. “Like you said, it’s not something I necessarily did in the past. Really just trying to be a lot more measured and just playing into myself a bit more not necessarily trying to hit a winner on that ball just constantly trying to set up the point to go to the net to try to finish even the next ball . If it turns out to be a winner, then it turns out to be a winner.

The winners keep coming in bunches. Its easy power remains. Keys hit 11 aces against Krejcikova, one of the best returners in the world and a doubles champion before becoming a singles champion. Keys dominated the short rallies and, as an Orlando resident, seemed much more comfortable in the humidity and heat, with the temperature on the court exceeding 90 degrees.

Krejcikova struggled, putting her ice-filled towel not just around her neck during changes, but on top of her head. Trailing 2-5 in the first set, she called the coach and was also attended to by a tournament doctor, who took her blood pressure and temperature. Although her coach Ales Kartus told her from the stands that she had to retire from the game, she persevered as the mistakes piled up.

Krejcikova refused to explain what was troubling her.

“I struggled with something,” she said. “Yes, it was happening, and I didn’t feel well. I just don’t want to talk about it, because I think Madison, she really deserves the win, and she really deserves to have the credit.

Krejcikova also struggled to breathe and felt dizzy on a humid night in New York last year in a tumultuous fourth-round victory over Garbiñe Muguruza at the US Open.

Krejcikova said she wasn’t having the same issues on Tuesday. “Today it was the heat that started to bother me after five games,” she said. “From there, I just couldn’t put it together. Still, I didn’t want to end it. I wanted to finish. I wanted to try to do my best. I wasn’t really able to do that.

Tuesday’s loss ensured that Krejcikova, a tactically astute Czech player, cannot move Barty to No. 1 in the next standings. But she continues her meteoric rise nonetheless. Outside of the top 100 in 2020 in singles, Krejcikova has become a constant threat in a women’s game filled with upheavals and unexpected twists: think of British qualifier Emma Raducanu’s run to the US Open title last year.

It’s Keys’ turn to be the surprise so far in 2022. After dropping out of the top 50 at the end of last season, she’s back in the last four in Australia, where she reached her first Grand Slam semi-final in 2015 at 19 years old. .

“It’s mostly different because I’m seven years older, and it’s not my first Slam semi-final,” she said. “I think I’m a little better prepared this time around than I was all those years ago.”

Her opponent in that 2015 semi-final was No. 1 Serena Williams, the greatest female player of that era, who beat her 7-6(5), 6-2, en route to the title. Williams, now 40, does not play in Melbourne this year but Keys will face another No.1 in Barty, who has won two of his previous three meetings.

Keys, who lost in the 2017 US Open final to her close friend Sloane Stephens, has long been seen as a potential Grand Slam champion. She is within reach again.

Chris Evert, who has known Keys since she trained as a teenager at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Florida, said it was obvious Keys was having more fun on the court than the last year.

“I see a very calm and focused Madison controlling and managing her emotions like never before,” Evert wrote in a text message. “I see a fit, healthy Madison moving really well in and out of corners and not hitting risky shots because she can’t get back on the court. His serve is nearly unrecoverable.

Evert added: “She had to find that place of calm herself, at her own pace, no one could teach her that. I’m happy for her. No one deserves a shot at a Grand Slam title more than her.

But Keys has been on tour long enough to know that thinking ahead isn’t the right approach for her. As Rumenov keeps telling him, “there is no need, there is no need”.

Staying in the moment is the goal.

“I think it’s really important,” she said. “I think it’s still something that I don’t think anyone is perfect for. You can kind of lose that even throughout a game, just by getting a little ahead of yourself. I even think I did it today at the start of the second set. I think the biggest key is just being able to bring it back and then refocus very quickly and catch up.


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